The Way to Reform Public Education is to Reform the Kids!!

I wanted to write my first blog post of 2011 regarding an “epiphany” I had during the winter break.  I spend a great deal of time reading other education blogs, policy papers, and interacting my my colleagues.  I speak often about the need to intrinsically motivate students, and I am 100% supportive of the prescriptions outlined by my friend, Michael Horn, co-author of “Disrupting Class.”  However, it has been the work I have been doing launching a small but critically important Atlanta-based non-profit, the Atlanta Music Project, that has had the most profound impact on my thinking around public education reform.

Before I observed the operations at our first “nucleo” in an impoverished Atlanta neighborhood, I came across this article, titled:  “How Urban Public Schools Have It All Wrong.” It was an epiphany for me, and may seem obvious to the many parents who read my blog. 

In order to fix the schools, as is the common parlance, the Bloombergs and Blacks need to fix the kids. First. But this would require a tectonic shift in philosophy, from penal to uplifting, from frenetic to calm, from dictate to reality.

We are dealing with children from broken homes, who don’t have role models, who don’t have safe homes or neighborhoods, and have no hope, because everything they are exposed to is a negative.   I have seen this first-hand with the elementary school children in our fledgling music program.  We need to positively reinforce these kids, so instead of disciplining them for every bad behavior, start celebrating good behaviors.  That is what any child psychologist will tell you if you have ever had to undergo benavior modification activities.

Digital learning tools, including game-based learning tools, are very, very important parts of the equation.  When you have motivated students, you get time on task, and you get a drastically reduced amount of behavioral issues.    And we need psychologists and mentors interacting with these kids to show them the way.   Empower these children, and stop giving them al of the answers.  Let them figure things out for themselves.  Digital learning tools, including games, can do this effectively. 

Our fledgling music program is like another family to these kids.  The teachers care, they get hugs and kisses when they perform well, and they are nurtured.  They work hard, but they are committed because they enjoy playing their instruments.   What if we could transfer this same motivation to the classroom?  It means that we have to stop thinking like administrators, and start thinking from the point-of-view of the student.

Reforming our education system must go hand in hand with reforming our children.  They are our most important priority, and we need to do something about it NOW.

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